Five years to the day the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) issued its final report, survivors and former commissioners got together to discuss the calls to action and the work that still needs to be done across the country.
For the first time since the report was released in Ottawa, commissioners Murray Sinclair, Wilton Littlechild and Marie Wilson were together, albeit virtually, and joined a special edition of APTN InFocus for a special show.
They say they reconvened to renew the sense of urgency, purpose and unity in the calls to action.
“Together today, we remind you that reconciliation belongs to each and every one of us, as individuals, as governments, and as citizens. Reconciliation is not dead, unless we kill it through our own inaction,” said Wilson in her opening statement.
The TRC spent six years travelling across Canada to hear from the people who had been taken from their families as children and placed into residential schools.
It is estimated that over 150,000 children attended residential schools for over a century. It was the commission’s role to document these stories.
Garnet Angeconeb is a survivor of residential school, and is cautiously optimistic about what the future might hold.
“I see a lot of hope and you know and as significant milestones have happened I’ve also seen some signs of change. And I really put a lot of faith into these signs of change so I have to count on that but as I say it’s been really slow I think in so many ways,” Angeconeb told APTN News.
Murray Sinclair says change is not supposed to happen overnight, but would have liked to see more progress at this point.
“We did not and do not expect change to happen overnight. It is however very concerning to us as commissioners that five years later the federal government still does not have a tangible plan for how they will work towards implementing the calls to action.”
In a public statement, the commissioners also stated they are concerned about the lack of progress and speed at which the calls to action are being implemented.
“Beyond positive efforts, we also see worrying signs, such as the political roll back of progress made in public school curricula in Alberta and Ontario. This is not only a barrier to reconciliation – it is also an attack on the truth,” the statement reads.
Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett said the establishment of a national council for reconciliation is top of mind.
“I think as we’ve heard from the commissioners that we need to accelerate the pace of setting up that national council for reconciliation so that there is that arms length body of really the accountability of not only for the 94 calls to action but also all aspects of reconciliation,” she said.
Seventy-six of the 94 calls to action fall under federal jurisdiction according to Bennett’s press release. The release states that 80 per cent of those have either been completed or are underway.
Everyone agrees that it is not too late to come together as one and work towards reconciliation, and honour the truth.
“All of the kids entering kindergarten now, who have their first orange shirt day, that at those next anniversaries know exactly what we’re talking about and we’ll never let anything like this happen again,” said Bennett.
Watch Jamie Pashagumskum’s story here
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s response, saying the damage took generations and centuries to inflict and that kind of destruction cannot be fixed in five years.
“As much as Ottawa might want to put forward the answers and move forward very quickly, it can’t be that way,” Trudeau said in a press conference defending his government’s response.
Trudeau further explained that he shares peoples frustrations and said his government needs to work “hand in hand” with Indigenous communities, who need to determine their own future.
Kahente Horn-Miller is the assistant vice-president of Indigenous Initiatives and a professor at Carleton University.
She helped to develop one of the university’s initiatives in response to the TRC’s calls to action for post-secondary institutions. They are calling them Indigenous collaborative learning bundles.
“They are actually living bundles of knowledge,” Horn-Miller told APTN.
The bundles are lectures that professors can use in their classes that were prepared by Indigenous faculty at the university. Also included are lessons from community experts and knowledge keepers which Horn-Miller says helps bring the valuable teaching tool to life.
The university is applying the bundles to over 50 classes this term over many disciplines such as science, English and architecture.
Horn-Miller said her education bundles are in-line with the calls to actin for post-secondary institutions and as an Indigenous person working in that field, she holds a personal responsibility.
“I come from a people that are known for diplomacy,” Horn-Miller explained. “My people, the Kanien:keha’ka, are part of the Haudenosaunee confederacy and we have a long standing practice of building bridges between our culture, our nation and other nations.”
Horn-Miller said the new teaching tools at Carleton University are ensuring that graduates leave with the skills to bring forward the difficult conversations around reconciliation while at the same time helping to preserve the teachings of traditional knowledge teachers.
“The call is really to start to learn the history. Start to engage with that difficult history. Start to fix it. Start those relations,” Horn-Miller urged.
Trudeau promised to support, resource and accompany Indigenous people on the path to reconciliation.
He said there is a lot more to do and his government will continue to work with strong Indigenous leaders like the former TRC commissioners.